The Daily Herald’s BYU sports experts Jared Lloyd and Darnell Dickson weigh in on five of the biggest questions facing the Cougars this week:
1. Zach Wilson expectations
1. What do you expect from BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson when the Cougar football team hosts Northern Illinois on Saturday?
LLOYD: BYU fans should temper their expectations a little because I fear Wilson will have some growing pains in this game. I expect the Huskies to come out and really stack the box, then force the freshman to put the ball into tight windows. I predict Wilson will have two or three passes that are absolutely excellent — and also two or three passes that will make you cringe. The biggest question is whether he can hit enough shots down the field to force Northern Illinois to respect that aspect of the game. He only completed one pass that went more than 15 yards from the line of scrimmage against Hawaii, so that aspect of his game is still very much unproven.
DICKSON: The challenge is tougher because Hawaii’s defense was not very good. Northern Illinois has more speed and physicality. Last week, Wilson had a lot of help because the offensive line dominated, the receivers made plays and the running backs were hitting the holes hard. It also helped that the defense set the tone early and dominated a pretty good offense. I think the BYU defense will cause a couple of turnovers and give Wilson short fields to work with, which will be a big plus.
2. Cougar football freshmen
2. BYU football has played 25 freshmen in 2018 with 10 having started. What do you think that indicates about the future for the Cougars?
DICKSON: It’s always an interesting balance for coaches to reward upperclassmen for their previous hard work and also get the freshmen who have earned time into the game. I think we’re starting to see how talented the past two freshmen classes are. Coaches talk a lot about getting the best guys on the field and we’re starting to see that the freshmen can play. I like the future if these guys continue to improve. It also lets future recruiting classes know they can earn playing time as freshmen if they are the best at their position.
LLOYD: I point to the offensive coaching change after the disappointing 2017 season as the main catalyst for the current youth movement in Provo. If you are a newcomer like offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, you have to get the guys on the field who you think will best fit your system. Since no one has any advantage in experience, it doesn’t matter as much what class in school they are in. At quarterback, for example, Zach Wilson has had approximately the same amount of time to learn this offense as Tanner Mangum has. That narrows the playing field and the freshmen have put in the work to be ready. The other factor is that with LDS missions, many of the early recruits for Kalani Sitake are now back officially as redshirt freshmen. Those are guys he brought in because he thought they would be able to excel in his program.
3. Hoops exhibition impressions
3. Who impressed you most during BYU men’s basketball’s exhibition win against Saint Martin’s?
LLOYD: I expected the Cougar starters and main backups to do well, since they are used to competing at this level. I was looking more at some of the guys I haven’t seen as much, so I’m going to point to freshman wing Gavin Baxter. Look, his offense looked pretty raw, but it’s just hard to teach someone to be that long and athletic. During his days at Timpview, he often looked like he wanted to be a guard, but BYU needs him to be a presence both under the basket and on the perimeter. He can use that 7-foot wingspan to get up after loose balls (three rebounds in nine minutes of action against the Saints), something the Cougars have to do to get wins playing an up-tempo style.
DICKSON: I am going to single out junior forward Dalton Nixon. He didn’t start but scored 11 points, grabbed three rebounds, dished out three assists and nabbed four steals in 22 minutes. It wasn’t just his stats that impressed me, though. I love the pace at which he played the game. I felt like other guys were kind of coasting because it was a Division II opponent. Nixon played hard from start to finish on both ends, and I frankly didn’t see that from everyone on the roster.
4. Cougar basketball improvements
4. What does BYU men’s basketball need to improve the most before their next exhibition game?
DICKSON: I wanted to see more explosive plays on both ends. BYU had a 12-0 run and a 10-0 run in the first half, but they easily could have been 18-0 or 20-0 if they had kept their foot on the gas. On defense, the first half was good, but in the second the Cougars weren’t getting to the Saint Martin’s shooters. I just didn’t feel like BYU was playing at a tempo the home team should be able to maintain.
LLOYD: So the Cougars have spent the summer really improving their outside shooting? Really? It didn’t show up like I thought it would in the exhibition opener as BYU had a ton of open looks from beyond the arc but finished just 5-of-16 (31.3 percent). The Cougars have one main inside threat in junior Yoeli Childs, but if the long-range shots aren’t falling and he gets in foul trouble, BYU is going to really have to fight to score points. The Cougars have to be able to confidently bomb away from downtown to reach their potential.
5. Women's soccer vs. No. 6 Santa Clara
5. What does BYU women’s soccer have to do to beat No. 6 Santa Clara on Saturday?
LLOYD: In their last seven games, the Cougars have scored more than one goal six times — and won all six. In the only BYU loss during that stretch, the Cougars only managed to find the back of the net once. I just don’t think the BYU defense is dominant enough for the Cougars to be able to win with a single goal. This team has to create multiple chances and finish a couple to get the momentum and force the Broncos to respond.
DICKSON: The Cougars have been a pretty good second-half team this year, but the key to beating the Broncos is to get up them early. BYU scored three goals in the first half at Saint Mary’s and that totally changed the way the game was played because the Gaels were stunned and scrambling. The Cougar offense has been improving steadily and this will be a very good test at South Field.